Thursday, April 27, 2017

Keystone Meats Celebrates National Beef Month with a Contest

The weather is warming up and most folks would probably rather spend time doing fun things with the family than cooking. So during the month of May, Keystone Meats will celebrate National Beef Month with the "Beef Up Family Time" recipe contest. Throughout the month, Keystone fans are invited to enter by submitting their favorite beef recipe on Facebook or online. All dishes must use Keystone Beef and take 30 minutes or less to make.

We've tried Keystone Beef before and were impressed with the quality and flavor. I never thought I would embrace canned meat, but hey, I like tuna salad and that's technically made with canned meat. We plan to enter and already have a couple of recipes in mind.

There are three contest categories (5 ingredients or less, family tradition, lighter meals) but only one winner. The prize? A year's worth of Keystone Meats.

Enter at or on Facebook at

The deadline is May 31st, 2017.

To learn more about Keystone Meats, visit or follow and vote on Facebook @KeystoneMeats.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, April 24, 2017

B&O Brasserie Spring Menu

When Chef Scott Hines took over from his predecessor Mike Ransom, there was a bit of a transitional period in terms of the B&O Brasserie menu. With the new spring menu, Chef Hines has revamped the entire lineup. focusing on familiar favorites with sophisticated refinements and getting back to the true mission of a brasserie. To that end, you will find the burgers, steaks, and salads that you would expect in a brasserie alongside more adventurous items like sweetbreads and quail. Also, the daily specials--fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf--have a homey quality that should attract diners looking for comfort foods.

We were excited to get an opportunity to try out some of the new offerings.

Of course, we always have to start with an exotic cocktail from the wildly creative mixologist Brendon Dorr and his crew. Rabbit's Revenge, with flavors of gin, carrot, and beet, is reminiscent of a Bloody Mary, and would be lovely with a big fat shrimp or two perched on the rim. The Rook's Return is a refreshing cocktail using Ford's Gin; it reminded us of pickle brine with a floral aspect. That description might turn some people off, but it's actually delicious.

I certainly experienced a flash of nostalgia when I ate the salmon tartare. It reminded me a bit of the salmon mousse that my Aunt Kay always served for holiday parties. While salmon mousse is typically made with canned salmon, the tartare, a simple yet elevated dish, is made with fresh raw salmon mixed with tiger sauce (mayo and horseradish). The feather-weight, crispy salt and pepper crackers provide the perfect vehicle for the tartare. Even the Minx liked it and she is not a fan of raw salmon.

For some reason that escapes us, many people are turned off by sweetbreads. I think it's just the idea of eating the glands of an animal, but going on taste alone, they are tender and mild. (The Minx likes to think that the phrase "tastes like chicken" came about because of sweetbreads.) At the B&O, they are drizzled with a completely unexpected ancho and bourbon barbeque sauce with some straight-off-the-grill smokiness. The dish also has a scallion cornbread for a contrasting texture.

Chef Hines's sous chef Tyler Johnson once worked at Wolfgang Puck's Italian restaurant, so he has quite a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to Italian cooking. He has strong influence over the pastas and sauces at the B & O and his rich Sunday gravy is excellent. It has great depth of flavor, as if Grandma was cooking it all day, and is the perfect accompaniment to the tender beef, mortadella, and foie gras meatballs. Now it might seem odd to add fancy bologna and duck liver to meatballs, and I couldn't really taste them specifically. They're mostly there to add unctuousness. The Minx was all over this dish and would love to make it at home.

The lamb rib appetizer is braised in gin for a long time, and the constant reduction of the sauce coats them in a rich glaze that shines like glass. The apricot yogurt accompaniment cuts the meaty intensity with its fruity sweetness and the pea salad brings acidity and crunch.

The Minx loves carrots for some reason, so she was insistent about having the smoked carrot agnolotti with morels, onions, and peas in a simple butter sauce as her entree. This dish of tender pasta filled with a cream-enriched puree of mesquite-smoked carrots may be the vegetarian entree on the menu, but we carnivores found it immensely satisfying. The combination of smoke and mushrooms made up for the absence of meat. More restaurants should offer such well-thought-out meatless options.

As a pasta person, I really wanted to order this too, but we had to try as many dishes as we could so....

My entree was the crispy black sea bass in a spicy boullabaisse with potatoes and confit tomatoes. Crusty bread with rouille is a traditional accompaniment to a fish stew like this, and the B & O doesn't skimp with their coating of the garlicky sauce. Be careful with this; the flavors of garlic and saffron are pretty intense and can linger in your mouth for some time, so if you don't want so much rouille, feel free to scrape it off. As for the bass, it was perfectly cooked with a lovely crisp skin and silky smooth flesh, and the broth was spicy but mellow.

As if that wasn't enough food, we sampled three desserts.

The B&O Oreos, chocolate cookies sandwiching creamy marshmallow filling, are served two to an order. That would be plenty, but it also comes with a large bar of peanut butter mousse encased in chocolate along with several dots of creme anglaise on the plate. It's almost like one dessert to eat there (the mousse) and one dessert to take home (the cookies).

If not a trend, elevated versions of humble s'mores have become a frequent feature on many dessert menus. This particular version takes the unique approach of sandwiching toasted marshmallow flavored ice cream in between house-made graham crackers. A pool of chocolate sauce and some actual toasted marshmallow completes the flavor profile. The ice cream is really subtle, and I recommend that you try a few bites without the cracker to notice its toasty flavors.

Possibly our favorite dessert of the evening was the buttermilk pie with blackberry jam ice cream. The sweet lemony pie has the consistency of thick custard, and the blackberries provided a tangy counterpoint. The ice cream is served on a bed of feuilletine bits, which keep it from sliding all over the plate and also add a crisp texture.

It's a special treat to go to the B&O Brasserie because, while the food has evolved over time, it's always inventive and offers new taste sensations. I think Chef Hines is on an especially smart track with this new menu, blending the familiar with the exotic and evoking taste memories while creating new ones at the same time.

B&O Brasserie
2 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland, 21201

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Date, Walnut, & Nutmeg Cake

I am not a baker, although I love eating baked goods. I also love watching the Great British Baking Show and have really been enjoying the "Master Class" addendum series with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood demonstrating their recipes. It's actually more fun for me to watch people baking than to do it myself. In fact, the thought of making something more complicated than a bundt cake or brownies is more than a bit intimidating. How those people--amateur, home bakers--can make such incredible fantasias with meringue and gum paste and multiple layers of cake and icing is incredible to me. Also time-consuming and potentially kitchen-messing.

Sometimes I do go into the kitchen to bake, and sometimes it goes well. Normally when I cook, I alter recipes like crazy, but I can't do that with baking. Baking is science, and therefore shouldn't be messed around with because it could end badly. So I rely on cookbooks most of the time. Like The Cardamom Trail, by former British Baking Show contestant Chetna Makan. Chetna was known for using unusual flavor combinations in her baked goods, which is one of the things that endeared her to me. But she also liked to bake straight-up British favorites, like Victoria sponge and lemon drizzle cake. The recipe I've included in this post is for a cake somewhat similar to sticky toffee pudding in that it uses dates as a main ingredient. There's also a sauce component, which I have omitted, that would make this dish even more like STP. (And I would have made it, had we double cream on hand.) Without it, this cake is somewhat like a quickbread in flavor and texture, and it is lovely with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a cup of coffee or tea.

Date, Walnut, & Nutmeg Cake (from The Cardamom Trail)
You need a kitchen scale for this one. Also, you can make your own self-raising flour by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to a cup of flour. For this recipe, you'll need about 2 cups of flour. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and then measure out the 10 1/2 ounces.

4 1/2 ounces pitted dates, chopped
1 cup water
5 1/2 ounces of unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
5 1/2 ounces light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 1/2 ounces self-raising flour
1 3/4 ounces walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a bundt pan and set aside.

Bring dates and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the baking soda and the flour and mix well. Fold in the dates and any leftover liquid, the walnuts, and the nutmeg.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes before unmolding cake. Allow to cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wit on the Water Patio Opening Party

On April 26th, join the party at Wit on the Water, Wit & Wisdom's patio. The season opening celebration will feature a new all-crab-themed menu, plus new frozen cocktails, local beers, and live music.

The party runs from 5pm - 8pm. Advance tickets are $35 ($45 at the door), including tax and gratuity, and include unlimited food and a welcome drink. Get your tickets via Eventbrite.

If the weather looks bad, the party will still go on, it'll just be moved to Wit & Wisdom's indoor lounge.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Meatballs a la Smitten Kitchen

The Minx has been a long time fan of Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen blog and recently purchased her cookbook aptly titled, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. She had bookmarked several recipes she wanted to play around with and one meatball recipe (or meatloaves as they are referred to in the book) sounded particularly interesting to me. Since I had a day during the week when I couldn't think of anything to make for dinner, Minxy suggested that I attempt this recipe. After all, she had already procured all the necessary ingredients on our last trip to the grocery store. I agreed and, in a break from my usual routine of using a recipe as merely a guide and coming up with my own riff on it, I was determined to cook the dish exactly as it was written in the cookbook.

Well, "best laid plans" and all that! It turned out, we didn't have precisely all the ingredients we needed. The glaze called for four tablespoons of tomato paste and the meatballs needed one tablespoon. I only had three tablespoons in the fridge and no spare can in the pantry. so I substituted two tablespoons of tomato paste and two tablespoons of ketchup in the glaze. Since ketchup already brings sugar and vinegar to the party, I reduced the honey and cider vinegar by half. Oh, actually, the honey in the pantry had solidified, so I replaced honey with agave syrup. The finished product turned out just fine.

Having successfully riffed my way around the glaze, I was totally prepared to make the meatballs exactly as described in the book. Trouble was, because of a peculiar layout choice in the book, three of the meatball ingredients were printed on the following page in a corner by the mashed potato recipe. I didn't notice them until after I had already assembled the balls. Since two of the ingredients were milk and eggs, I thought for sure the meatballs would be dry. Thankfully, they too turned out great.

All I had left to do was make the mashed potatoes. Whoops, I couldn't find buttermilk at the store, so that was out. Also, I thought Ms. Perelman's technique was overly fussy, so I just made mashed potatoes they way I normally do, but keeping the brown butter element since it sounded too delicious to pass up. The mash also turned out just fine, and the brown butter provided an added nuttiness that was quite wonderful.

So here it is: my intended-to-be-faithful-but-actually-not-so-faithful take on the Smitten Kitchen's Meatloaves and Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes.

Tomato-Glazed Meatballs with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes (adapted from Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon table salt

To make glaze: Mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan. Whisk constantly while bringing to a simmer over medium heat.The glaze should come together in a couple minutes. Put it aside for later.

2 slices sandwich bread
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium celery stalk, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
olive oil, for cooking
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

To make meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whiz the bread in the food processor until it becomes crumbs and set aside. Roughly chop the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot before adding to the food processor. Pulse it until the vegetables become a finely chopped pulp.

Pour a little olive oil into a skillet and heat for a minute over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and add the vegetable mix. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently. When the mixture starts to brown, take off the heat and add to a large bowl with the breadcrumbs.

Add the remaining ingredients to the veg and breadcrumbs and mix the ingredients together with your hands. Once everything is incorporated, form twelve similar-sized meatballs. Arrange them in a baking dish, making sure they are evenly separated. Coat each meatball with a thin layer of the glaze. Place in the oven and bake until thoroughly cooked, about 20 minutes (160 to 165 internal temperature).

Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

To brown butter: Melt the butter in a pot over medium-low heat. Stir regularly and keep a close eye on it. Once the milk solids have cooked away and the butter is a clear golden color, the butter will start to brown and take on a nutty aroma. As soon as it starts to brown, take it off the heat so it will not burn. Put aside for later.

To make the mashed potatoes: Peel and dice the potatoes. Place in a medium saucepan and cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat so that it maintains a steady boil without boiling over. Cook the potatoes until they feel tender with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Drain the water. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add the browned butter and milk and incorporate with the potatoes until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Place a layer of the mashed potatoes on the plate and set two meatballs on top. Drizzle the meatballs with some of the leftover glaze.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Gazpacho

I've been buying Muuna Cottage Cheese ever since I tried it last year. It makes a good quick snack that's a bit different from yogurt, but, like yogurt, it can be used for more than a grab-and-go meal.

I've been playing with different ways to use Muuna; the cheesecake recipe linked above is a no-brainer, but I thought why not use it in place of yogurt or heavy cream? For instance, in a dish that calls for a creamy element, but not the tang of yogurt. Heavy cream might seem like the answer there, but that stuff has 411 calories per half cup, with 2g of protein. Classic Plain Muuna has 110 calories per half cup and 14g of protein. If you smooth out the curds in a food processor (I like to use a mini-prep for this) Muuna falls somewhere between yogurt and cream in thickness, making it ideal for use in soups or pasta sauces.

My favorite warm-weather food is gazpacho, and while there are days still cool enough to deal with putting the oven on, I like to make it with roasted vegetables. In this recipe, I've roasted peppers and tomatoes plus onion for extra flavor. Muuna adds a lovely creaminess, but also protein, making this soup nice for lunch or a light supper with some crusty bread.

I'm in Baltimore, and I've found my Muuna pretty much everywhere I regularly shop: Giant; Safeway; Shoppers; Weis Market. If you're elsewhere, check out the store locator on their site.

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Gazpacho
If you're not into the whole idea of putting on the oven to make this lovely chilled soup, then by all means, do cheat with a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and jarred roasted red peppers. Omit the onion, and use the jalapeno and garlic raw. The soup will be just as delicious.

2 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
1 red onion, cut into thick slices, rings separated
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, cut in half and seeded
2 cloves garlic, skins on
1 1/2 pounds cherry or grape tomatoes
Olive oil
3/4 cup Muuna Cottage Cheese classic plain 4%
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco to taste
Pinch smoked paprika
Diced cucumber and tomato, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil.

Place the peppers, onion, and jalapeno on one baking sheet and the garlic and tomatoes on the other. Drizzle all veg with olive oil and salt and toss with your hands until everything is coated.

Roast for 40 minutes until soft and blackened in areas, turning pieces once halfway through. Remove from the oven and allow to come to room temperature.

Slip off the garlic skins. Place the roasted veg in the jar of a blender and puree. Add the cottage cheese, cucumber, and vinegar and puree until smooth. Season with smoked paprika, pepper, Tabasco, and salt to taste. If soup seems too thick, add a little water or some extra virgin olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld.

Serve in cups or bowls, garnished with a little of the cucumber and tomato dice.

Serves 4-6

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Blood Orange Chicken

As we've already established, northern Baltimore County isn't exactly the best place for Chinese food. Area restaurants are pretty mediocre, so when we have a craving for kung pao and aren't prepared to drive across town (or to another county), we make it at home.

The cookbooks of Fuchsia Dunlop are a real inspiration and we can't recommend them enough. Not only are the recipes great, particularly in Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, but the backstory for every recipe is fascinating. After reading all of her books, we sort of have an idea of what Chinese ingredients to keep on hand at all times. Two of those are Chinkiang black vinegar and doubanjian, which I employed in this tangy and sweet orange sauce for chicken. You could use it on pork or beef as well.

If you like your sauce a bit sweeter, use more brown sugar. If you like it hotter, use more doubanjiang. You can, of course, use plain rice vinegar in place of the Chinkiang, but you'll be missing out on the lovely caramelized flavor that black vinegar provides. The same for the doubanjian--sriracha will work, but it doesn't have the same mellow heat. It's also more acid-y than the broad bean paste, so you may want to cut back on the lemon juice or vinegar. A good rule of thumb to use when cooking: taste everything at every stage.

Blood Orange Sauce
This makes enough sauce for 3-4 boneless, skinless thighs or 2 boneless breasts. You can also use it as a glaze for chicken wings. In that case, omit the cornstarch and, depending on the number of wings you make, you may wish to also double the recipe. (Minxeats baked wings recipe here.)

2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Vegetable oil
Juice of half a lemon
Zest and juice of 1 blood orange (can use regular orange)
3 teaspoons black vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon spicy broad bean paste (doubanjiang)
3 tablespoons brown sugar

Saute the shallots and onion in a few teaspoons of oil and a pinch of salt until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Cook chicken to your liking - baked, poached, stir-fried, etc. If they're not already in one, put chicken pieces in a saute pan. Pour over the orange sauce and bring to a boil. If sauce needs thickening, make a slurry with a few teaspoons of cornstarch and twice as much water in a small bowl. Drizzle some of the slurry into the sauce and stir. If not thick enough, add more. Toss the chicken pieces in the sauce to completely coat them, regulating the heat so the sauce doesn't boil away in the process.

Serve with rice and a green veg like sugar snap peas, snow peas, or broccoli.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Tea Cake

Right after Christmas I purchased a holiday tea sampler from my favorite tea purveyor, David's Tea. It's a Canadian company with a handful of outlets in the US; I hit up the Bleecker Street branch just about every time I'm in NY. It used to be that I blew all my money on perfume when I went to NY, now it's tea. I order from their web site on occasion, but only when I need enough to qualify for free shipping ($50 minimum purchase)--not very often. But after the holidays, they had so much good stuff on sale for half off, I couldn't resist buying everything. One of those things was a star-shaped box with wee 3-tablespoon tins of several of their holiday teas. I figure that while I would drink some of them, others I would use to flavor ice cream (you know I love making ice cream with tea). And one weekend afternoon, when I had some rare free time, I decided to use one in a cake.

After sniffing all of the tins three times, I settled on "Coffee Cake." The web site description reads thusly: "There’s nothing more nostalgic than a classic coffee cake. Just picture it. That dense, yellow cake, dotted with fruit and topped with crumbled brown sugar." The list of ingredients includes pineapple, cranberries, and cherry juice. Huh? I suppose Canadian coffee cake is a bit different than the version I grew up eating. I don't recall any fruit in my cakes. And while the tin of tea did have what appeared to be a tiny piece of dried pineapple, it did not smell fruity at all. More maple-y, I would say (and Mr Minx concurs). In any case, it smelled lovely and it tastes great in this cake, too.

It would be quite the coincidence if you had the same tea at home, so use whatever tea you like. Something with warm spices, like a chai, would be lovely, I think. Earl Grey would work as well, or something with hints of chocolate or berries.

The glaze is optional. A dusting of powdered sugar would be just fine.

Tea Cake

2 tablespoons of your favorite loose tea, divided use
1/2 cup whole milk, plus additional for glaze
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar
Cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a standard bundt pan and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon of the tea to the milk in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with plastic and nuke at high power 30 seconds at a time until the milk is boiling, 1 minute to 1 1/2 minutes. Set aside to steep. After about 10 minutes, strain out the tea leaves and reserve.

Grind the remaining tablespoon of tea to a fine powder in a coffee grinder. Set aside.

With a stand mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and the ground tea until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream, beating until well blended. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add them to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating with the tea infused milk. Stir in the vanilla and, if desired, some of the tea leaves left over from soaking the milk.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs.

Make a glaze with 4 tablespoons or so of powdered sugar, and 1 tablespoon or so of cocoa. Dribble in enough milk and stir to make a thick but pourable glaze. Drizzle over cooled cake and allow to set before cutting.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Local Easter Celebrations

If you're not up to cooking on Easter, there are plenty of Baltimore-area restaurants that are willing to do it for you.

Cinnamon Tree Restaurant at the Hunt Valley Inn is offering an Easter Champagne Brunch including Fresh Maryland Crab Claws on Ice with Lemon, and Pan Seared Filet of Sole with Mornay Sauce. An Herb Roasted Prime Rib and Roast Pork Loin station with side dishes "provides the comfort of a home cooked meal for the family." For dessert, try their specialty Cinnamon Tree Cinnamon Rolls or Easter Cookies.  (Adults: $35.95 / Children under 8: $16.95)

Citron at Quarry Lake is offering both brunch and supper on Easter Sunday. Brunch runs from 12-3pm, supper from noon to close.

Cosima is offering a one-off a la carte Easter brunch, from 10am - 2pm.

The Turn House in Columbia is having a brunch buffet from 10 - 3, including lamb and ham carving stations, oyster bar, plus all of your breakfast/brunch faves. ($45 adults, $20 children 12 and younger.)

Wit & Wisdom at the Four Seasons Baltimore is offering breakfast, brunch, and dinner on Easter Sunday. Breakfast will run from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Brunch starts at 9 and runs until 3pm. There will be live music, a carving station, make-your-own omelets, a sweet & savory crepe station, roast-your-own s'mores, raw bar and a decorate your own Easter Egg cookies station for the kids.
($69 per person, $29 per child under 12. Bottomless Mimosas are also available for $14.)

An à la carte dinner menu will be available from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. as well as a full tavern menu from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

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Monday, April 03, 2017

Pen & Quill

Not all that long ago there weren't any good places to eat around the Charles Theater. (Before you start to argue, even the 80s doesn't seem all that long ago to me.) Once the theater expanded in the 90s, we got Tapas Teatro. Eventually Sofi's Crepes came along. And a couple of years ago the Cheapeake Restaurant re-opened to great fanfare after being closed for over two decades. And then it closed right back up again. Thankfully, Helmand Karzai, whose family owns Tapas Teatro, the Helmand, and b Bistro, came in to make the historic space really work. The new restaurant became Pen & Quill, after the original Chesapeake's cocktail bar. Helmand's wife Naomi became bar manager while her sister, Bella Kline, took over the kitchen as executive chef. These changes have made the northeast corner of Charles and Lanvale the place to be once again .

We were invited to partake of a media dinner to taste Chef Bella's food. Though young, she's got serious French technique and the creativity to pair it with unusual ingredients. Some of the items we tasted were on the winter menu, but there were also some dishes she was trying out for spring. No matter the season, all were enjoyable.

We started off in the lounge with three kinds of oysters on the half shell, accompanied by a charcuterie plate boasting a terrific house-made sausage of pork spiced merguez-style with cumin, coriander, and chiles. We continued our meal in the cute private dining room that would be perfect for a large family dinner or a small party.

The first course included house-made burrata, a mountain of mozzarella filled with mascarpone and cream. Marinated mushrooms cut the richness, and a thoughtful spoon of salt was included so diners could adjust seasoning to their liking. We thought it was perfect as is.

One of the dishes for spring is the hamachi crudo, a plate of clean flavors including radish, mango, serrano pepper, and avocado. The serrano and tuna are a match made in heaven, at least to The Minx's palate. This dish would be a refreshing choice for a warm day.

An example of Chef Kline's ability to mix classic technique with unusual ingredients is her dish of perfectly seared scallops accompanied by banana ketchup. While nobody in their right mind would put tomato ketchup anywhere near a scallop, the banana-forward sauce was only lightly sweet and added a nice taste of the tropics to this dish, which also boasted grilled scallions and a soy glaze. We also had a lovely dish of fried polenta with baba ganoush, fresh artichoke hearts, and marinated feta over baby greens. A salad yet not a salad, hearty but light, a dish sure to please most vegetarians.

Another vegetarian dish was the smoked beet reuben. It's is exactly what you would expect: the traditional elements of braised sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread, but with smoked beets replacing the usual corned beef. It sounds strange, but somehow it works quite well. The Minx was crazy about it.

The beef tartare was unctuous and very fresh-tasting, served with soft brioche toasts and a broken gribiche (traditionally, a gribiche is a mayo-based sauce reminiscent of a remoulade or tartar sauce, but with hard cooked egg in place of raw egg). The chef's "everything" spices brought a great deal of flavor to the plate as well.

A creamy take on a green gazpacho included "all the green vegetables" and was delightfully smooth and flavorful.

We also tried the parsley Parisian gnocchi--bright green pillows of parsley and Parmesan goodness topped with Serrano ham. The green soubise was rich and possessed a strong onion flavor, which was reinforced by the addition of smoked Vidalia onion.

As if we weren't already quite full, we were presented with a lamb and garlic pie filled with vegetables and topped with a savory pepper crust. In addition to the tender lamb, it was fun to decipher the selection of veg inside, which included Brussels sprouts and potatoes. I love this kind of rustic cooking and found this to be my favorite dish of the meal.

We were really impressed with Bella Kline's dishes and are happy that the old Chesapeake Restaurant building is finally being put to good use. The bar looks like a fun place to hang out, and the drinks list includes local brews, a careful selection of wines, and some creative cocktails. We only tried a gingery Pimm's cup, but would love to go back for more. We'd also like to try Bella's steamed buns and amazing-looking fried chicken sandwich.

Pen & Quill
1701 N Charles St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 601-3588

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Beanie Weenies

My life has been entirely too hectic recently. Besides my day job, my various writing jobs, a time-consuming gig as a book editor/designer, and media dinners, we've had to run back and forth to a local nursing facility to visit my Dad, who's been an in-patient for physical and occupational therapy. Normally I get to do quite a bit of cooking on the weekend, but recently I've had to resort to making things that were fast because time was short. One-pot meals are ideal.

One particular weekend, we had a relatively quick chicken dish that yielded a decent amount of leftovers. My suggestion of chicken pot pie with a puff pastry crust was met with a non-committal shrug from Mr Minx. I realized he doesn't particularly like pot pie (a sentiment I do not quite understand, as he likes both stew and pie) so switched gears. I found two cans of cannellini beans in the cupboard, and remembered that we still had a package of Hofmann German Brand Frankfurters in the freezer. Beans and Franks it was!

I recall that beans and franks was a favorite fast dinner in my house when I was a teenager. Mom would cook some onions, add two cans of Big John beans and sliced Esskay franks and we'd devour it with white bread (one of the few times we'd eat white bread untoasted). Big John beans are pretty sweet, but everyone in my family has a sweet tooth. Mr Minx does, too, but he's not a fan of sweet entrees. Keeping that in mind, I toned down the sweetness of the beans quite a bit. If you are a fan of sweeter beans, then by all means, add more brown sugar and/or ketchup. I think it's one of those recipes that's easily customizable--just add more or less of any of the ingredients to taste. Want spicy beans? Add more hot sauce. Want tangier beans? Add more vinegar and mustard. Hate marjoram--leave it out. (I only used it because I happened to have a bunch of fresh marjoram in the fridge left over from another dish.) Don't have sundried tomatoes? Use more tomato paste. No salami? Leave it out. You get the drift. In other words, the recipe below is a loose guideline.

Beanie Weenies

1 tablespoon bacon grease or olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh marjoram
2 tablespoons 'nduja or other salami, minced if hard salami
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, rehydrated in boiling water for 15 minutes, chopped
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
Splash Worcestershire sauce
Pinch smoked paprika
1 cup chicken stock
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (use Navy beans if you prefer smaller beans)
4 hot dogs, sliced on the bias

Melt the bacon grease (if solid out of the fridge, like mine was) in a 3-quart saucepan or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to turn golden, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the marjoram, 'nduja or salami, and tomatoes and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly, until the mixture is pasty. Add the ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, tomato paste, mustard, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, and stock and bring to a boil. Add the beans and bring back to the boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer until beans are tender, 30-35 minutes. Add the sliced hot dogs and cook until warmed through.

Serve with buttered bread, if desired.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vodka Cocktails

We like to drink. In moderation. While Mr Minx is happy with a few sips of good scotch or bourbon on the rocks, I go for flavored liqueurs and cocktails, so our booze collection contains a little of this and a little of that and at least one or two bottles of vodka. So when I was asked if we wanted to taste two types of vodka that were being carried by Total Wine & Spirits, LEAF Organic Vodka and Khortytsa Platinum vodka, I said "of course!" The Total Wine on Joppa Road is our favorite liquor store, so we were happy to promote a product they will carry.

Khortytsa (hor-tee-tsa) is made in the Ukraine using local organic filters like schungite (a type of carbon used to purify water) and birch- and alder-tree charcoal. LEAF Vodka comes in two varieties, one made from Alaskan glacial water, and the other from Rocky Mountain mineral water. And yes, the vodkas do have their unique flavors, with the glacial version being a tad sweeter than the mineral water version. (Doing a vodka taste taste is perhaps a little too much fun.)

We don't drink vodka straight, so needed some cocktail ideas. We really like the Sparkling Mandarin, which is like a fancy Screwdriver. And we came up with our own recipe for the LEAF vodka based on ingredients we had on hand. That's one of the beauties of vodka, actually--it's neutral, so you can add it to just about anything you like to drink and get a tasty cocktail.

Right now, LEAF and Khortytsa are available at Total Wine & Spirits in California, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, and Delaware. Eventually they should be available in Maryland, but in the meantime, local outposts of Total Wine have no shortage of other fine brands of just about any libation you can think of.

The Sparkling Mandarin

1.5 ounces Khortytsa Platinum
4 ounces Mandarin juice (two mandarins)
6 ounces Brut sparkling wine

Combine the vodka and juice in a tall glass and top with sparkling wine.

Makes 1 drink.

The Glacial Rose

2 strawberries
1 teaspoon sugar
1.5 oz Leaf Alaskan Glacial Vodka
3/4 ounce Art in the Age Rhubarb Tea liqueur
3/4 ounce grapefruit liqueur (like Combier Pamplemousse Rose)
6 ounces rosé wine

Hull one strawberry and muddle it in the bottom of a highball glass with the sugar. Add the liqueurs and wine, top wish a splash or two of grenadine. Cut a slit into the pointed end of the strawberry and fit it over the rim of the glass.

Makes 1 drink.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Shrimp Dip

I like to make dips, so much so that I think my next cookbook might be all about them. Why do I like them so much? Besides the obvious deliciousness factor, dips are versatile. Though some are specifically meant to be eaten at room temperature or cold, many can also be heated until bubbly and golden. Some can also be re-purposed as a sauce for pasta (like the corn dip in this pasta casserole) or a sandwich component (try crab dip on a hot dog). If the dip is hearty enough, it can be dinner (see: fondue).

When we received samples of Farmer's Pantry Cornbread Crisps, I determined that they needed a dip. Well, not really--they are perfectly delicious on their own. The jalapeno flavor is especially tasty, and it does indeed have a peppery kick. I found myself eating them by the handful even before the dip came out of the oven. By that time, I was getting full, so the dip became my dinner. (Mr Minx's too, even if he didn't eat half a bag of Crisps before dinnertime).

The dip is full of chunks of shrimp and artichokes, with lots of cheese and a few sliced almonds scattered on top for crunch. It's one of those things that would also work really great as a topping for chicken breast fillets or pasta, so consider that if you have any left over. And that's a big "if."

Shrimp and Artichoke Dip

1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
Olive oil
Pinch salt
8 ounces of shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped into dime-sized pieces
2-3 teaspoons Chesapeake Bay-style seafood seasoning, like The Spice Lab Best of the Bay
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan + more for topping
1 (14-oz) can artichoke heart quarters, drained, chopped, and blotted dry
Lemon juice
Sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Over medium-high heat, cook the onion and bell pepper in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt until translucent. Stir in the shrimp and cook a few minutes until opaque. Stir in Bay seasoning to taste.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and mayo. Stir in the Swiss cheese, the 1/2 cup of Parm, the artichokes, and the shrimp mixture. Add lemon juice to taste.

Scrape the mixture into a round or square 8" baking dish, or into individual ramekins. Top with additional Parm and some of the sliced almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes until oozy and the cheese and almonds are browned.

Serve with Cornbread Crackers or sliced French bread.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Chicken in Milk

Years ago, when Mr Minx and I were regular Food Network watchers, we saw an episode of Jamie Oliver's show (The Naked Chef, I believe) in which he oven-braised a whole chicken in a pot of milk. Seemed a little weird, especially as he also added lemon peel, which curdled the milk. Jamie insisted the chicken was the best thing ever, so I filed the idea away in my head to make sometime in the future.

Flash forward a good 15 years when I stumble upon the recipe on the Internet. "Oh yeah," I think, "I was going to make this at some point." Better late than never is definitely true in this case.

I had to adapt the recipe somewhat. I don't have an oven-safe vessel that would comfortably hold a whole chicken, so I used the stovetop. Small chickens are nigh impossible to find in a regular supermarket, and if you know me, you'll know I'm not the kind of person who will go running around from store to store to find a perfect ingredient. Chicken thighs and chicken legs were more than good enough for the job, however, The recipe called for 10 cloves of garlic, skin-on, but my small bulb yielded 14 and I used all of them. I would, in the future, remove the skins, as they don't melt during cooking and are a little annoying to find in one's mouth.

The end result was pretty amazing. The chicken was meltingly tender, garlicky but not overwhelmingly so. The curds in the sauce were small and not entirely unappealing. Most of my liquid cooked away so I added a splash of milk at the end to create more sauce. I'd also, in the future, save some of the sage to chop up and sprinkle on at the end of cooking, for some fresh herbal flavor. This recipe will definitely go into my cooking rotation, as it was easy, used only one pot, and tasted great. Plus there's the possibility for variations: coconut milk and lime, perhaps, with makrut lime instead of sage; sub orange for the lemon; etc.

Chicken in Milk (adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver)

1 tablespoon butter
8-10 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and legs
Salt and Pepper
½ stick cinnamon
1 good handful fresh sage leaves
Zest of 2 lemons, cut into long strips with a vegetable peeler
10 -14 whole cloves of garlic, skins removed (about a whole small bulb)
2 cups whole milk + more

Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, which you have salted and peppered, skin-side down and cook until browned on both sides. (You'll need to do this in two batches.)

Remove the chicken to a plate and drain any liquid fat from the pan, leaving the sticky crusty bits behind. Add the chicken back to the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down so the milk is just simmering and cook until chicken is falling-apart tender, about an hour, maybe a bit more. 90 minutes max. If you find that much of the liquid has boiled away, add half a cup or so additional milk toward the end of the cooking time, so you 'll have sauce.

Serve a few pieces of chicken per person with some of the juices spooned over, plus a green veg and some sort of starch to absorb the sauce. (I used quinoa.)

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Monday, March 20, 2017


I'm not into the whole idea that one simply eats to live, because I live to eat. That has made me an adventurous cook. While I love meatloaf and spaghetti and meatballs as much as the next person, I almost never cook them. (Besides, Neal does a much better job at both dishes than I do.) I prefer to make things that are a little more unusual than what one would expect a second generation Polish-American to make: octopus; egg foo yung; b'stilla; rasgulla.

Rasgulla is an Indian dessert, basically cheese balls cooked in a sweet syrup. I found the recipe in Chetna Makan's book The Cardamom Trail. Chetna was a contestant on the 2014 season of the Great British Bake-Off and an even more recent Christmas special. Trained as a fashion designer in Mumbai, she moved to the UK a decade or so ago where she honed her already keen talent for baking. She's known for incorporating exotic spices and international flavors into her bakes, and her creativity quickly made her my favorite contestant of the four seasons of the Bake-Off that I've seen so far. I purchased her book as a Christmas gift to myself but so far haven't made anything other than the rasgulla. Why? Because most of the recipes call for self-raising flour, and I've been too lazy to look up the conversion to regular AP flour. Plus, the house has been full of holiday baked goods and food show samples and there hasn't been room for one more pie or cake or cookie in our already oversized bellies. That said, I'm hoping to try something before it gets too warm to turn on the oven.

In the meantime, however, I did find time to make these cheese balls. No self-raising flour required, and they sounded pretty simple otherwise. They're rather unusual, in that the cheese becomes very firm and "squeaky" after cooking. I find them most pleasing when warm, but they can also be eaten at room temperature or chilled.

Rasgulla (adapted from The Cardamom Trail)

1-2 tablespoons lime juice
1 3/4 pints whole milk
Pinch saffron
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons rosewater
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Mix 1 tablespoon of lime juice with 1 tablespoon of water in a bowl and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan, then turn off the heat. Add the saffron. Pour in the lime juice and stir well. Let stand for 5 minutes - the milk should curdle. If it hasn't curdled enough, add the other tablespoon of lime juice and wait a few more minutes until there's a definite separation of the curds and whey.

Place a layer of cheesecloth in a fine gauge strainer and place over a bowl. Carefully pour the curdled milk into the strainer, catching the curds in the cheesecloth and allowing the whey to drain into the bowl. Gather the ends of the cloth together and wring out as much liquid from the curds as you can. Drain the whey from the bowl, set the strainer back on top, and place the bundle of squeezed curds back in. Place a small plate on top and weight it down with a can or two to help press out any excess liquid. Allow to drain for 15 minutes.

In a wide pan, heat the sugar with three cups of water until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat.

Remove the curd from the cloth. Place it on a clean surface, sprinkle with the cornstarch, and knead with your palms for 10 minutes. It will go from crumbly to soft and smooth. Roll the dough into a fat log and cut into 20 pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball.

Once the balls are ready, bring the syrup to a boil and add the rosewater. Add the balls, then cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. The rasgulla will double in size and become spongy. Turn off the heat and keep the balls in the syrup until ready to serve.

Serve warm with or chilled with some of the syrup. Leftovers can be stored in the syrup in an airtight container for up to three days.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Most broccoli cheese soups I've had are as thick as paste and is about as tasty. The broccoli is often mushy and flatulent, well past the point of overcooked. And forget canned versions; I find them abominable.

Homemade soup, on the other hand, can be quite delicious. And no, you don't need a crock pot (not for anything in my book). Broccoli cheese soup is actually quite quick, especially if you don't roast the broccoli first. But why not? Roasting adds another layer of flavor, and it can be done while you're prepping the other veg.

There's also no need for a gloppy texture. Just don't use so much flour!

This soup is somewhat lean in that I didn't use whole milk or half and half, as some recipes call for. Much of the broth's flavor comes from bottled dry hard cider (but a light beer will also work) and chicken stock. It's roux-thickened, so there's not really any need for tons of dairy. And it doesn't need more than a cup and a half of cheese--it's not fondue, after all.

I think this soup is perfect on a cold winter day, especially like the snowy one we just had. In fact, this was dinner that very day, accompanied by hot buttered toast. It would also work well using a small head of cauliflower in place of the broccoli. Even a pound of button mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in butter, would make a good substitute for the broccoli-averse.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

2 heads broccoli
Olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup dry hard cider
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups 2% milk
4 shakes Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground nutmeg (1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon, or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (as much as you like)
Tabasco sauce
6 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Trim broccoli stems. Cut into small florets. Peel the stems and cut into chunks. Arrange in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Roast for 20 minutes, or until florets start to char a bit on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In a soup pot or dutch oven, melt the butter and stir in the flour until a paste forms. Add the carrot, pepper, and onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, until veg start to soften and everything smells good. Pour in the cider, stock, and milk and bring to a simmer. Season with the Worcestershire, nutmeg, pepper, a few shakes of hot sauce. Add the broccoli and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the broccoli is tender. Stir in the cheese until melted. Season with salt to taste.

Serves 4-6

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